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why I’m particularly glad to be in France today.

IMG_4507Here in France, there always seems to be one service or another that’s shutting down in protest of something.   The trains.   The buses.   The airlines.  And then every time you turn around everything is closed for some holiday you’ve never heard of, that usually has something to do with some holy person ascending to heaven.

You can say a lot of things about the French and their work ethic, their politics, their bureaucracy,  but I can honestly say, I’ve never seen their government shut down.

So let me get this straight, America…

The goddamn idiots in the House are shutting down the government over a small point in a puny bit of legislation that they spent countless hours whittling down to nothing?   On our dime?

If they were working for me, I’d fire their lazy, pompous, self-righteous, entitled asses.   Oh wait….they do work for me.   Supposedly.  Can I fire them?   At the very least, don’t Americans have the right to stop paying their goddamn salary?

I’m going to avoid blaming parties and just say that I’ve seen our elected officials on both sides of the aisle take the exact opposite positions they’re taking now, all depending on which party proposed what.   They both sicken me equally (okay, maybe right now I hate the Republicans a wee bit more).   I can’t look at any of them without getting a huge churning knot of rage in my stomach.

Today in France, stores are open, and services are running.  Medical care is about 1/10th the price it is in America.  I’m happy and relieved to be in a country where the news and politicians don’t make my blood boil. Of course, that could be because I don’t understand them.

how the french elect a president

On Sunday, April 22  the French will go to the polls and chose between 10 candidates from 10 different political parties.  If none of the 10 contenders get over 50% of the vote (not likely when you’ve got that many people running), the top two will face a run off vote on May 6.   The winner will be the President of France for the next five years.

I tried to count the number of parties currently represented in the French system, but my tiny attention span only made it to 15 before my mind wandered and I began worrying about more immediate issues like what’s for dinner.

Suffice it to say, unlike our two party system that is practically cartoonish in the black and white stances our politicians are reduced to, the French have to deal with many shades of grey.    One of the left wing candidates is described as a socialist republican and historical materialist — what the hell would our two party system do with that?

It’s difficult to get a feel for the candidates and how the public feels about them since I don’t understand what anyone is talking about most of the time.   But here’s what I’ve been able to glean about the leading contenders from online research and studying campaign posters around town.

Nicolas Sarkozy (incumbent). Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) Center right

They call him President Bling Bling.   His values seem more American than French to me.   He wants to take away a lot of the laws (like practically being unable to fire anyone even if they’re totally inept and a 35 hour maximum work week) that hinder his vision of “work more, earn more”.   Totally capitalist.   Not that there’s anything wrong with it.   He does seem to be the most in bed with banks and big business.  And he is the most interventionist President France has had in ages (he’s the only top candidate who doesn’t have withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of his platform).   He’s very short and on his fourth marriage, this time to Carla Bruni, an ex-model and occasional singer/actress.   Need I say more?

More on Sarkozy

Francois Hollande   Socialist party   Center left

 Judging by this poster (yes, that is real merde on his face), you might think he’s the most detested man in France.   I mean, you’ve got to hate a guy pretty strongly to go to the trouble of putting actual shit on his poster.   But the truth is, this guy is leading in the polls right now.   He’s the change candidate, as you can see by the revolutionary line on his poster:  ” the change is now.”   After reading up a little on the candidates,   It’s possible I’d vote for him (although it’s hard to look at someone as presidential once you’ve seen him with shit on his face.)   He wants tighter controls on banks.   He wants to tax all income above E 1.3 million at 75%, which seems fairly moderate when compared with the other left candidate’s proposal (see Melenchon).    Juicy gossip:   He lived with and had four children with Segoline Royale who Sarkozy beat in the last Presidential election.   That would kind of be like Obama fathering four of Hilary’s children (out of wedlock!)

More on Hollande.

Marine Le Pen   Front Nationale (FN)   Far right

Far Right wing.   Her father is also a prominent far right wing french politician (Jean Marie Le Pen).   Really strong on anti-immigration and nationalism.   Wants to get off Euro and back to Francs as well as a “buy French” law.  From what I can tell, she is the French equivalent of Liz Cheney.    Here’s hoping the Le Pens are humans rather than vicious, soulless cyborgs.

More on Le Pen

Jean-Luc Melenchon  Front de Gauche   Far left

This guy is the most left wing guy among the top contenders.   He was born in Morocco, so he’ll have being born on the same continent as President Obama going for him*.  I’ve got to say, the Hitler mustache scribbled on the poster doesn’t quite seem appropriate for this guy.  He’s peaceful.   He’s not expansionist.   Or a Nazi.    I suppose it could be a comment on his stand to recognize Palestine, or possibly making fun of his tag line: “take  the power”.    Apparently one poll has him dubbed as the most “rock and roll” candidate (which proves the French take stupid polls too).   He wants to tax all income above E350,000 at 100%!!!!!!!!.    Seems like a Stalin mustache would have been more appropriate than the Hitler one some irate French person scrawled on the poster above.

More on Melenchon

The other six candidates have followings that are too small to be considered serious threats.   I know this because none of the posters I’ve seen of them have been defaced.   Clearly the public is indifferent.

The best overview of everyone running, their parties and what they stand for that I’ve found so far is from Al Jazeera.   Go figure.  It’s got the added benefit of being in English.

international political summit

My ability to discuss politics in French intelligently is seriously hampered by my inability to discuss anything in French intelligently. Up until now, I’ve pretty much limited my political ravings to blaming the Bush administration for the weather.   Obama still gets the benefit of the doubt.   I’ve been hoping that hope thing pans out.

I decide to use my next French/English session with Carole, my neighbor to discuss what’s happening on the geopolitical front.

We settle down with our drinks, pens, paper and dictionaries for a deep discussion of the world political situation… in the others’ native tongue

Carole Poletti-Blot, France

Lesley Stern, USA

Moi: Aime-tu Sarkozy?

Carole (making a face):   You no longer have Bush.   Now we have Sarkozy.   We have exchanged shames.

Moi: Ah, mais Bush est un grand, grand…shame (flipping through dictionary) HONTE.

Carole (correcting):  Bush ETAIT un grand, honte.

Moi: Etait.   Bush etait un grand, grand honte.   Huit annees de honte.   Mon Dieu!   Et Sarkozy?

Carole: He pretends…pretend? he possess the world.

Moi: He thinks he owns the world.

Carole: (repeating) He thinks he owns the world.

Moi: or   he’s an entitled asshole.

Carole:  Say this again?

Moi (simplifying): An asshole.   (trying to explain it in shitty French)…Iil est un grand ane.   Ou …le hole…qu’est ce que c’est hole… (flipping desperately through dictionary) de derriere.

Carole: Connard!   I’ll est un connard!   Un trou de cul.    Oui.

Both Carole and I scribble our newly learned words down furiously.

Moi: (repeating to self) trou de cul, trou de cul.  Connard. Connard.

Carole: (repeating to self) asshole, asshole, asshole.

Me: Oui tout les politicians …comme que dit suck?…Mauvais, mais plus mal…(thinking) .Les politicians est putains.

Carole laughs at my use of the curse word.

Carole (correcting): Sont putains.

Me: Les politicians sont putains.

Carole: The word again, please?

Moi: Suck.  All politicians suck.

Carole starts scribbling down the phrase

Carole: Please spell “suck”.

Moi: S…U….C….K.

Carole (reading what she just wrote): All politicians suck.

Moi (applauding her): Oui! Tout les politicians sont putains!

Carole (reading from her notes): Sarkozy is an asshole!

Moi: Oui! Tous les politicians sont connards!

Now that a consensus has been reached, we relax a bit, proud of all that we’ve accomplished. I certainly feel better having gotten all this off my chest and that my French partner and I have found some common ground. We move on to other pressing matters of the day.

Moi: Ou est se trouve en bon homme ici?

Carole: There is not a good man in the world.

We laugh together conspiratorially.

I think we may be on to something. This trying to speak in the others’ language without translators could be a good thing for international relations. Sure, our political conversation was a little limited. But when you get right down to it, I’m sure we resolved much more and found more common ground in an hour than the UN has in years.   Heck, maybe the US senate should try it.

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